Metformin use and survival of patients with pancreatic cancer: A cautionary lesson

Roongruedee Chaiteerakij, Gloria M. Petersen, William R. Bamlet, Kari G. Chaffee, David B. Zhen, Patrick A. Burch, Emma R. Leof, Lewis R. Roberts, Ann L. Oberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Purpose: The inclusion of metformin in the treatment arms of cancer clinical trials is based on improved survival that has been demonstrated in retrospective epidemiologic studies; however, unintended biases may exist when analysis is performed by using a conventional Cox proportional hazards regression model with dichotomous ever/never categorization. We examined the impact of metformin exposure definitions, analytical methods, and patient selection on the estimated effect size of metformin exposure on survival in a large cohort of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Patients and Methods: Of newly diagnosed patients with PDAC with diabetes, 980 were retrospectively included, and exposure to metformin documented. Median survival was assessed by using Kaplan-Meier and log-rank methods. Hazard ratios (HR) and 95% CIs were computed to compare time-varying covariate analysis with conventional Cox proportional hazards regression analysis. Results: Median survival of metformin users versus nonusers was 9.9 versus 8.9 months, respectively. By the time-varying covariate analysis, metformin use was not statistically significantly associated with improved survival (HR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.81 to1.07; P = .28). There was no evidence of benefit in the subset of patients who were naïve to metformin at the time of PDAC diagnosis (most representative of patients enrolled in clinical trials; HR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.80 to 1.30; P = .89); however, when the analysis was performed by using the conventional Cox model, an artificial survival benefit of metformin was detected (HR, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.77 to 1.01; P = .08), which suggested biased results from the conventional Cox analysis. Conclusion: Our findings did not suggest the benefit of metformin use after patients are diagnosed with PDAC. We highlight the importance of patient selection and appropriate statistical analytical methods when studying medication exposure and cancer survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1898-1904
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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